In Kevin Zucker's Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, the page-turner is replaced by a mobile-turner. Instead of sheet music, the players read a medium-sized mobile, hanging from the ceiling and decorated with black balls shaped like musical notes. A long sheet of paper with lines like those of a staff hangs behind the mobile and the players perform whatever they read in the shifting configurations of mobile and background.
Presumably the Sonata sounds different in each performance. Last night, in the opening concert of the University of Maryland's Festival of New Music, it sounded quite pleasant. It also reinforced the progam's basic message: the avant-garde lives; in a time of neo-romanticism, when tunes have come back into fashion, there are still young iconoclasts making vulgar noises and thumbing their noses.
The program was divided between the old masters of the avant-garde (John Cage, Henry Cowell and Edgar Vare se) and virtually unknown young composers: Zucker, John Welsh, Mantle Hood, Edward Diemente and Stuart Smith, who is also the director of the University of Maryland-Baltimore County New Music Ensemble. The music included pieces for unaccompanied flute, various percussion ensembles, and six guitars stationed throughout the Tawes Recital Hall. And the student performers played like pros.
Diemente's "Bravo! Encore!" is a surreal psychodrama for a conductor, an orchestra that claps musically according to comically elaborate cues, and a trumpeter who emerges from the audience. In last night's performance, it was an absorbing, many-layered experience. So was Smith's "Tunnels" for solo speaker, in which spoken words (predominantly nonsense-oriented) become pure music. It was performed by the composer, with considerable acting talent.
If last night's program was a fair sample, the festival, which continues through Friday evening, should offer some exhilarating moments for devotees of the avant-garde.